It was January 1, 1930. The country was still reeling from the stock market crash of the prior year. Herbert Hoover was president of the 48 states. The average annual salary was $1,368.00. A quart of milk was 14 cents, a loaf of bread was 9 cents, and round steak was 42 cents a pound.
In Utica Ms, on January 7, Hattie Crumb was born. She was a precious, precocious, most loved little girl. She was the first grandchild and first niece. Although she was an only child, she had aunts, uncles and cousins her age; therefore, there was always a group to play with.
She attended Water Valley Elementary School in Utica. After that, she lived in Jackson for a while and attended Smith Robinson Junior High School where she excelled academically, and still has the report cards to prove it. She moved back to Utica and attended Holzclaw High School where she was a star basketball player. Her philosophy was "If I can't get the ball, the girl I'm guarding for sure is not going to get it." She attended Little Mount CME Church. She was well-behaved and performed all chores that were required of her.
On December 2, 1945, her world expanded, she gave birth to her first child, a baby girl. She was so excited about that, but she had no idea what to name her. In her youthful excitement and exuberance, she over-named her. She called her Alice Bettye Jean, what a name.
A little over two years went by, then on April 9, 1948 she gave birth to her first son, Child # 2, and named him Johnnie D. Johnnie was the charmer of the family. He had an uncanny knack of getting others to do his chores or his lessons or relinquish their chance to go to town and allow him to go instead. It wasn't long before Child # 3 came on the scene; February 9, 1950. A precious little girl who she named Priscilla Ann. Priscilla took her chores of cleaning house very seriously. She'd clean and wouldn't allow the other children to come inside until Hattie got home from work so she could see what a good job she'd done. About two years later, February 26, 1952, Child # 4 appeared, a boy child, and she named him Henry Earl. Henry was quite shy. If we had visitors and they tried to talk to him, he'd put his little hands over his face. Thinking if he couldn't see them, they couldn't see him either. He was quite the entrepreneur. We just knew that some day he would be rich. That has become a reality.
Hattie began living in Jackson, working, in order to provide for her children. In Jackson, she met a tall, dark handsome man named Milton Harris. They fell in love, got married and shortly thereafter, June 13, 1955, you guessed it, enter Child # 5, a little girl who she named Mildred Jeannette. Mildred was the fighter of the family, solely defending the family honor and reputation. She's the middle child and in her opinion, that makes her special. Child # 6 came so fast, September 20, 1956, he was nearly a twin with # 5, he was named Milton Jr. Milton has always been Mr. Fix-it. He enjoys working with his hands. He could repair anything from a squeaky roller skate to an airplane engine.
Hattie had a fine rhythm going, girl-boy, girl-boy, girl-boy. And, you will notice that as time went by, she got better and better with the names. About two years after # 6, January 20, 1958, the rhythm was broken, she gave birth to Child # 7, another boy who she named Kenneth Ambrose. Kenneth spent a lot of time in the kitchen with his mother, not learning to cook, not washing dishes, not helping, just playing and observing. Every time I cooked, he was right there to tell me, "Momma doesn't use that spoon to stir her peas. Momma doesn't use that pan to bake her bread." And on and on until I’d run him out of the kitchen.
Hattie tried to get back on track with child # 8, May 16, 1959, a girl who she named Dwana Denise. Dwana was always the funny girl of the family. She told funny stories keeping us entertained. Two years after Dwana, October 17, 1961, child # 9 came and it was a girl also. She named her Sylvia Antoinette. Sylvia was... a HOLY TERROR. She had a little childhood illness and was told to not get upset. She worked that to death. Whatever Sylvia wanted, Sylvia got. To not get it would have upset her, and she could not be upset for health reasons. She worked that too death.
After giving birth to boys back to back and girls back to back, Hattie decided to just quit, her rhythm was forever broken. She had learned in Sunday school and church that God said "Be fruitful and multiply" and she had only been trying to do her part, one child at a time.
She was now the mother of nine. She was a great mother. She cooked, cleaned, washed, ironed, helped with homework, attended PTA and school programs. She didn't allow her sons to play football; it made no sense to run around hitting each other. They could however play in the band, three of the boys played drums. Three of the girls played basketball; one was a Lanier Rancherette. She never attended the games or the band performances. She worked during the day and she couldn't attend night games or functions, it made no sense to be out late at night and besides that, she needed her rest.
Soon the children were in various stages of growth, but there was no baby to hold and rock and sing to and she missed that dearly.
In 1966, Mr. & Mrs. Ben Puckett acquired her as an employee or she acquired them as employers. That is still open for discussion. At that occurrence, something just short of a miracle happened, she became mother to six additional children, Carol, Richard, Little Ben, Helen, John and Todd. Now she was the mother of 15 children. She had 15 to love, 15 to pray for, 15 to agonize over, and 15 to help make sound judgment. Todd was a newborn, that meant her arms were no longer empty. She had baby to hold, rock, sing to, diaper, feed. She was simply ecstatic. Life was good.
Just when she thought life couldn't get any better, something happened on February 4, 1967, that would have a resounding life-long impact on her life as well as the lives of her children; she became a grandmother. With that incident, everything she had ever done or said in rearing her children was revamped, revised or thrown out altogether. Her grandchildren were some precious little never, ever before heard of angels. They said, "Grandmother!" and she was there between them and their parents, her children, like a lioness protecting her cubs. Suddenly belts were only for holding pants up, switches stayed in the trees and there was absolutely no yelling at her grandchildren. Her method of discipline was to catch the child's hand and softly say, "Look at grandmother. Now let's talk." And, her children were forbidden to ever put a hand on her grandchildren in anger. There have been many occasions that we have walked away in tears of frustration because we couldn't discipline our children.
After the grandchildren came, suddenly it was okay for them to run inside the house, it was okay for them to eat sweets before dinner, it was okay for them to play football, it was okay for them to date before they were barely sixteen, it was okay for them to get her opinion on subjects they hadn't discussed with their parents. Her grandchildren could do no wrong. They played all sports. So suddenly, football made perfectly good sense. When her children were growing up, she went to bed early. Was always available, a regular mother. After the grandchildren, she began staying up late at night and going out in the cold to watch a game or to watch a band performance or the performance of the Murrah Misses. She started going shopping with them or they shopped for her and she began wearing strange clothes, dangling earrings, make-up, sneakers and jogging suits, short dresses, bought a new car. She really became someone that we barely recognized as Momma. But really she wasn't, she was Grandmother.
After she became a grandmother, she insisted on being called "Grandmother" exclusively, even by her children. Her greatgrandchildren, our grandchildren, call her Grandmother also. When our grandchildren began arriving, we had to get creative in what name they would call us. We knew for sure it would not be grandmother, there was only one Grandmother, that fact had already been clarified. Every time she signs her name, she signs it Grandmother. It is amazing that she hasn't had her name officially changed to Grandmother.
As time went on, the trials and tribulations of life began to occasionally wreak havoc on her nerves. She has perfectly good medical coverage, but she wouldn't allow her doctor to prescribe Valium, Lithium, Ritalin or any other sedative known to mankind to help her relax. She developed her own remedies. She takes four hours of Isle of Caprice, or Harrahs or Rainbow or Ameristar and after that, she is as strong and as sturdy as a rock.
In the past few years, she joined a Senior Citizen Group and has been having the time of her life. She calls it her Wisdom Team. She is the Photographer of the group. They take overnight trips; they sight see and go out to lunch and/or dinner. She dearly loves her Wisdom Team. She has been many places she would never have gone were it not for the Team.
She is an active member of Lynch Street CME, where she is Sunday School teacher to the Pre-schoolers; she ushers, sings in the choir and is a member of the Minerva Rhone Circle. She is a member of a social group called the Secret Pals Club.
In addition to being the mother of 15 children, she is the grandmother of 39, the great-grandmother of 14. She is Nana to Bill, a cat whose favorite pass time is lounging near the fireplace. She is also Nana to 2 ducks, 2 roosters, a dog named Spike and a beta fish named Pete.
Her hobbies are working word puzzles, working jig-saw puzzles, watching the Soaps, watching football, basketball, tennis, golf, and baseball on TV, and of course "relaxing her nerves" in Vicksburg. The greatest loves of her life are her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. On a good day, she even loves her children, but mostly we are just the vehicles by which she became Grandmother.
Grandmother, you are the matriarch of the family, the very glue that holds us together. You are so loved, admired and adored by your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, family, friends and loved ones. You are and have been Grandmother to the entire neighborhood, from Pocahontas Ave to Eminence Row. Our house was always the house where the neighborhood kids hung out and that's because of your love, kindness, and generosity. We honestly feel that we could never do or say enough to convey our true feelings to you. We hope you will enjoy this evening! It has been set aside just to honor, celebrate and pay tribute to you. It is our prayer that God will bless you with many, many more birthdays. Happy Birthday Grandmother and God bless.
(Written December 2002)
* Now, there are 40 Great-Grandchildren.